Good Lord (as my Grandfather would say), don't look now, but that's me knitting!
As part of my 'day job' (read studentness
) I was invited to be a ‘specialist advisor’ at the CRUMB ‘Bliss-Out’ Centre at the Enter Unknown Territories conference on new media art in Cambridge. CRUMB
(Curatorial Resource for Upstart Media Bliss) have recently been exploring holistic approaches to skill exchange in more traditional conference environments and, if the customised beauty-therapy tunics sported by the CRUMB team were anything to go by, this was their most radical conference antidote yet!
The space allocated to CRUMB was set up like a lounge-cum-beauty parlour-cum-craft circle. There was a corner for watching the conference on the TV, comfy arm chairs and a self-help library, an Indian Head Massage area, a tea table complete with proper teapots (but no tea cosies) and a big table covered in all manner of games, crafts, biscuits and cakes.
Each member of the CRUMB team offered a range of skills to entice conference attendees into a different type of engagement. Beryl Graham was making and playing with fortune tellers (the paper ones we all made at school), as well as, for example, offering advice on the PhD process. Sarah Cook was keeping everyone up-to-date on conference proceedings, while keeping people well-stoked with tea and her home baked delights (paradigm-shifting pistachio macaroons for example), while Ele
Carpenter was guiding needles and thread through fabric (embroidery) and tension out of muscles (massage), as well as discussing open-source culture.
I, on the other hand, provided a knitting and net art history combo – and some delightfully hideous cupcakes (see my previous post)!
The Bliss Out Centre was unbelievable fun. All day long people drifted through and seemed genuinely pleased to have discovered an oasis (or do I mean health spa) where they could explore long-forgotten pastimes such as knitting, sewing and Pick-Up-Sticks and sit in comfortable seats with never-ending cups of tea or friendly chat. However, and here’s the clever part, in their more relaxed state, everyone seemed much more able to discuss and digest issues pertinent to the conference. It was a release, there was no academic posturing and people allowed themselves to get straight to the core of their new media (knitting, sewing and baking) concerns.
I for one struggle with the conference format; I struggle with fatigue, with trying not to lose concentration and with being able to take in and effectively process such vast amounts of information in such a short space of time. I come into my own at tea breaks though. This is when I can break down some of the ideas I’ve
attempted to take in, release myself from the confines of the conference environment – and be a bit more human.
I feel strongly that conferences should be some sort of skill exchange rather than the passive, one-to-many model they have been for so long. A conference should be about skill-swapping, being shown something new and being given some of the tools to access that new information at a later date. When I taught/reminded several people how to knit - and even left them with needles and wool to be going on with - (here's a couple of them)
’t help feeling that this was a better model of learning. And, its two way! While teaching people to knit, I learnt a great deal about their practice, which will in turn inform my own research.
CRUMB even provided little prescription pads where people could write down notes or advice for each other (rather than desperately scrawl on the back of tiny business cards as is the norm), and I wonder if the Bliss Out Centre itself shouldn
’t be prescribed for most conference situations, not least because I really think I could make a career out of this - AND, it got me knitting again (well, just a little bit)!